Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Why the Free Church? One Year On . . .

Just over a year ago, my wife and I set our sails in a new direction, we started worshipping in a local Free Church of Scotland. This caused many of our charismatic friends to ask a number of questions. Since a fair number of people were asking the same questions, I decided to blog about it here, here and here.

Having engaged with the questions in the Highlands, I had the opportunity for a bit of a laugh at the weekend when we visited the central-belt. I took the opportunity to head to one of the local independent churches for some fellowship and to catch up with some people I hadn't seen since moving to the Highlands four years ago. During one conversation, a brother in the Lord asked me:

'How do you find the churches up there? Are they not dead, religious and against the things of the Spirit-- and anti-praise and worship?'

I had a good chuckle, and admitted that some of them are a bit like that, but mentioned that there was also a depth of spirituality to be found among many believers within the historic Presbyterian churches. Unconvinced, I said the magic words 'Lewis revival?' and all of a sudden we were on the same page, agreeing that God is bigger than the guitar.

Upon returning home, and logging in to various social networks, a couple of quotes came up in my newsfeed which really reinforced the reasons why I am now worshipping with the Free Church of Scotland. Here is one of them:

"If you are a thinking Christian who is weary of the spiritual hamster wheel of endless 'principles for living', or if your heart can no longer embrace what your mind regards as superficiality and religious hype, you may be ready for the theology of the Reformation." (Michael Horton).

This quote for me summed up the key reason why I worship where I do. My heart yearns for something deeper than that which has become the staple modern evangelical, contemporary and charismatic diet. This is in no way intended as dig or a pop, it's merely a confession.

However, as I have reflected upon people's responses to what they understand to be Highland Presbyterianism, I realise that more needs to be said. 'Dead, religious and anti-praise and worship' is the caricature-- and it exists for a reason. Some Reformed churches find themselves in troublesome circumstances. Their numbers are declining, their meetings are stale, and the denominations, by and large are dying a slow and painful death. This is the reality (not just for Presbyterians, but for many denominations who have suffered from several schisms).

Why the Free Church? Quite simply, I think there are signs of hope for this particular denomination. They have broadened their stance on worship to make room for instruments and hymns (a move which reflects the majority of reformed churches' stance on worship); they have some great growing churches; they are politically engaged with cutting edge issues and they are 'open at the edges but committed at the core'. By highlighting the signs of health within the Free Church, I am not saying that there are no signs of health in other denominations, I'm simply saying that I appreciate the fusion of confessionalism and cultural engagement. It certainly makes it easier to transition from the charismatic and contemporary scene when you don't have to step into a 400 year old time warp in order to worship God on a Sunday morning.

So, I appreciate the Free Church because it's reformed, yet relaxed (worshippers come dressed formally or casual, there are no rules), it's committed to singing the psalms, yet open to new songs; it understands the dangers of manufactured worship, but doesn't think instruments are 'of the Devil'; and most importantly it is theologically robust but at the same time culturally connected and evangelistically engaged. Welcome to the Free Church of the 21st century.


  1. Thanks John, as a new boy myself, I found your experience of the Free church echoes mine very closely. I particularly agree with your comment that it is "engaged with cutting edge issues and ... 'open at the edges but committed at the core'. I found the experience so liberating.

  2. Hi Crawford.

    Thanks for the comment, I'm glad you could connect with the reflections-- it is also great to hear of others who have headed in a similar direction-- which church are you in?